St. Martiners know all about changing landscapes. Ponds are filled, bush is cleared, roads are cut into the hills. But people aren’t the only ones changing the landscape. As the Christmas winds push the swell in different directions, the beach in Grand Case fills up and disappears. Ponds expand and contract between the wet and dry seasons.
Hurricane Irma made changes in the landscape. There’s a big one down on the beach at Le Galion. A channel was opened through the beach that links the bay to the salt pond behind it. The pond, Salines d’Orient, has been transformed by the clear seawater that can now flow in more freely. The point that once connected Orient Bay and Le Galion is now an odd-shaped peninsula at the end of Orient Beach.
How will this impact the plants and animals living there? Salines d’Orient may benefit from its connection to the sea. In the past, this pond has suffered from massive die-off events that left piles of dead fish and crabs along the shore. Usually these happen when extra nutrients—like those in wastewater—cause rapid growth of algae and bacteria that use up all the oxygen in the water. Fish and other animals then suffocate and die.
Why not create a new island? Dig a channel at the very end of Orient Beach and leave a crescent moon of land just slightly offshore. Fewer people would visit, perhaps measures could even be taken to reduce rats and make it mongoose-free. Would seabirds nest there? Could we restore a diverse coastal forest? It is an idea worth considering.
If you stop by Le Galion, take a moment to look across the new channel. Imagine a tiny new island across from you. Also take a look at the sea grape tree across the channel from you. Its great nest of roots is exposed where the sand was washed away, but it still hangs on. Without this tree, the channel could have been much larger. Sand and stone and concrete was washed out by the raging waves, but that single tree would not be moved.